When I arrived overseas to teach in an American school many years ago, I switched on the television to watch any reports about the United States. Sadly the meager news that came to Hong Kong in those days was not the United States I knew. There was coverage of women’s mud wrestling and other unusual events. Otherwise, their image of Americans was drawn from the many movies that we produce and distribute worldwide. Back then, Asians thought that most Americans were cowboy ranchers or lived in cities where police had to shoot someone every day. Today, many foreign students still come here expecting that every American carries a gun.
I still travel to Asia every year. When I return, I continue to find that the U.S. news does not represent the world outside our borders. Foreign countries have improved their news media. But it is rare that we see reports that describe foreign societies, cultures and current events as the citizens of those countries see them. We rarely hear of disasters in other countries—unless an American is killed.
Of course we are all naturally more interested in events in our town than in our state. –In our state than across the country. –And in our country more than elsewhere in the world. But that is no excuse to remain ignorant of the true beliefs behind the actions of peoples in other countries. You can assert that you are international-minded because you listen to BBC radio or watch BBC news on television. But that is the British view of the world, not very different from our own narrow view. It is rare that American or British reporters actually speak the language and understand the history and culture of the foreign post to which they are assigned. They report back with American eyes and American values.
If the foreign “news” we receive is generally wrong, short of traveling abroad ourselves, how can we come to understand the actions and events in other countries? One way is to read and listen to media produced by reporters in other countries.
In magazines, a World Press Review strived to publish news from around the world with excerpts taken from the major newspapers of every major country. Sponsored by the Stanley Foundation, this magazine was published and sent to subscribers from 1974 to 2004. Since then, it remains available at Worldpress.org. But it reaches a smaller audience and a reader is locked to a screen format.
Another similar magazine, The Week, was founded in the United Kingdom in 1995 and began publishing an American edition in 2001. It is available in convenient-to-read print. The Week focuses fewer pages on world news, but still prints foreign viewpoints on most major issues in a timely manner.
The internet now makes access to the televised media produced by other countries, much in English versions. Beginning this year, Chinese Central Television (CCTV) is available online at http://www.cgtn.com/. CCTV has correspondents in every African country and produces a half-hour news show on Africa each weekday, just about the only source of news covering Africa! Of course, it is China’s view of Africa, but that is better than America’s no view at all. The Arab perspective on world events is readily available from http://www.aljazeera.com/. In both of these cases, the program hosts are mainly Westerners, some being experienced reporters you may recognize. And Russia now produces an online news site available at https://www.rt.com/.
In my specialized area of higher education, the weekly University World News provides the best overview of university developments worldwide, with editors out of South Africa and Australia.
At this point, a reader is likely to ponder the word “propaganda.” Fortunately, with our recent experience with domestic fake news and wildly divergent reporting in the U.S. media, it is obvious that misinformation is widespread across all countries and all media platforms. That makes it even more important that we examine all of the perspectives available.
To be informed citizens, we should consider our decisions as a judge considers testimony at a trial. If your opponent was allowed to testify, and then it came time to hear your side of the story and your opponent was asked to explain your side, you would not consider it a fair trial.
Today is a good time to recognize our provincialism. Today we have the technology to give all sides a fair trial.